The Church was born from Christ’s mandate to the apostles to go and teach all men and baptise them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The Lord was acting through the apostles and will remain with the Church till the end of times (Mt 28, 19-20). As we celebrate the Feast of St Peter and St Paul on the 29th June we shall perhaps discuss whether the Church’s emphasis on the Petrine office has diminished its missionary zeal. Some think that the emphasis on orthodoxy and orthopraxis has centralized the Church to the extent of diminishing its capability of being rooted in different cultures around the world. Some think that the Church tends to Westernise the culture into which it is implanted.
One has to distinguish between the historical aspects of Church’s efforts and the essence of its being. We should defend the Tradition of the faith without necessarily accepting all the traditions that have insinuated themselves into the Church’s life. The danger of distinguishing between the two is to accommodate the faith into the new prevailing culture and not discriminate historical accretions from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Is it right to contrast Peter and Paul? I do not think it is. First of all, Peter was an itinerant preacher who was not the Bishop of Jerusalem, James was. He was living up to the mandate passed on to him from Christ to confirm the brethren in the faith. His martyrdom in Rome indicates his intention to reach the whole world through the paths of the Empire. Paul’s apostolic life was eminently missionary and his zeal to make the Lord Jesus known to all men will always remain in the Church as a supreme model of missionary zeal. His special vocation was to be to the non-Jewish (the Gentiles) what Peter was to the Jewish Christians. But even Paul recognized the Petrine ministry and requested the confirmation of Peter not to labour in vain (Galatians 2,2; Acts 15, 1-35). I do not see any conflict necessarily arising from the fact the Peter is to guarantee for the authenticity of the faith and the Church’s missionary thrust. I do see that historically due to a number of factors there might have been conflicts within the Church, some of which have led to schisms that divide the Church up to this day!
How to avoid contrasting and conflicting the two life-giving streams within the Church? I think that only if the community of believers builds itself on the Gospel of the Lord Jesus and lives an authentic Christian life can it shed historical, and cultural accretions that do not change the Gospel’s essence. It requires courage, sensitivity, and a true spiritual life to accept differences to the Christian practice that do not change the essence of Christianity: the Lordship of Jesus, his saving grace, and the love of brethren. Discussions around dogma, morality, the liturgy, Church law, etc can be passionate, intelligent, enlightened, but should not lose sight of what is basic to love and accept Jesus as the Lord! Neither is it an option to pick and choose from the gospel and live an individualistic faith apart from the Church, hence the Petrine ministry.